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Special feature

Alsatian culture reconnects with its Rhineland roots

Across Alsace, the cultural scene is thriving. This renewal encompasses all areas of culture, spreading to some of the region’s most prestigious – and most surprising – locations. It’s a region where art and industry enjoy a particularly close relationship.

Alsace isn’t short of cultural headline acts. The Théâtre National de Strasbourg, for example, is France’s only state theatre outside Paris – among such esteemed company as the Comédie-Française and the Odéon. Alsace is also home to the Opéra National du Rhin and numerous major festivals including Musica, which is held each autumn and attracts the world’s best contemporary musicians to perform in prestigious halls across Strasbourg and Mulhouse, as well as cultural venues in the region’s smaller towns and cities.

The new Unterlinden Museum

The Unterlinden Museum, in Colmar, had rather outgrown its home in the former Dominican convent, whose chapel houses the stunning, world-famous Isenheim Alterpiece by Matthias Grunewald. The museum is currently undergoing renovation work, including the addition of new exhibition rooms around the former baths, on the opposite side of the Sinn Canal. The project is being managed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron (Tate Modern in London, Beijing National Stadium, etc.).

Yet other than these flagship icons, Alsatian culture is firmly rooted in its Rhineland homeland. “We can only achieve recognition from the outside world if we stick together,” explains Jean-Luc Bredel, president of the Europe Culture Citoyenneté association and former Regional Director for Cultural Affairs in Alsace, Lorraine and the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region. He is also the man behind Szenik, a website that lists the very best theatrical productions across the Upper Rhine region. In his view, Alsatian culture can only shine if it joins forces with its neighbours in Baden-Baden and Basel. This is especially true when one considers that cultural events on the other side of the national border, such as Burda in Baden-Baden, Beyeler in Basel and Art Basel, the world’s leading contemporary art show, attract some of the world’s most demanding and knowledgeable modern and contemporary art lovers.

TNS - Strasbourg

Inspired captains of industry

Here’s the story of how Alsace joined the new wave of Rhineland culture. In the space of barely 15 years, three gems of the modern art world have appeared on the scene: the Musée Würth in Erstein, the Fondation François Schneider in Wattwiller, and the Fondation Fernet-Branca in Saint-Louis. These three establishments are housed in surprising locations: an industrial park, the abandoned workshops of a thermal spring and a former distillery. Each was created by inspired captains of industry to support modern and contemporary art. And the concept works! “Industry and art have something in common,” explains Jean-Luc-Bredel. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.” Or perhaps it’s more like a symbiosis – one that seems to work exceptionally well in Alsace, a region with a burgeoning cultural scene driven by the dynamism of the Rhineland.